Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Let the adventure begin
by Camillo De Marco
- The spin-off/prequel by British director David Yates, which hits screens all over the world this week, marks the highly anticipated return to the big screen of the magical world created by JK Rowling
More than just anticipated, this film is what ever-impatient Harry Potter fans have been craving. It would be useless to try to sum up the long hype that has preceded the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [+see also:
film profile]. Suffice to say that the film hitting screens all over the world from today marks the return to the big screen of the magical world created by JK Rowling in her books. Five years on from the last film about the boy wizard, this new film is a spin-off/prequel to the film saga that started in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but is quite different to the latter, in that all the protagonists are adults. This is the first of five chapters dedicated to creatures from the magical world (the second is currently in pre-production, on imdb.com you can see the release dates for the next instalments, of which we will presumably get one every two years, concluding with the fifth instalment in 2024), and is directed by British director David Yates, who also directed four of the most successful Harry Potter films.
One of the major differences between this saga and the previous one is that this time JK Rowling is fully involved, in her debut as a screenwriter and producer (with Heyday Films and Warner Bros), and has been constantly present on set to offer her encyclopaedic knowledge. Moreover, for the first time the film is not based on a novel committed to memory by millions of Potter fans, giving the filmmakers more freedom. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, written by Newt Scamander in 1927, is actually one of the textbooks that Harry Potter studies at Hogwarts. As well as the seven books about the boy wizard, JK Rowling published three books for charity between 2002 and 2008, one of which was the very handbook that inspired this new film saga (whilst two literary sequels have already been announced). In the film we learn that the protagonist, Newt Scamander was a student of Albus Dumbledore, but was expelled from Hogwarts for an incident involving a muggle. All in all, Fantastic Beasts has its own identity and is completely independent, although it remains closely linked to the Harry Potter world.
The film itself doesn’t disappoint (we saw it in 3D). Those who read the Harry Potter books and loved the films are now adults and will appreciate this more mature story, as Yates himself has described it. Young audiences will instead discover a magical world of pure entertainment that is not built on superheroes, but on “special” people. Timid protagonist Newt Scamander, played by British actor Eddie Redmayne (who won an Oscar for his performance in The Theory of Everything [+see also:
film profile]), arrives in New York in the mid-1920s with a threadbare leather suitcase, obviously magical, containing some of the beasts of the title. At that precise moment the city is shaken by a dark mass of uncontrollable strength that destroys whole districts and alerts the MACUSA – Magical Congress of the United States of America, presided over by Madame Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). Investigating the dark presence is Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a powerful Auror and Director of Magical Security at MACUSA, who has a strange relationship with Credence (Ezra Miller, the unsettling protagonist of We Need to Talk About Kevin [+see also:
interview: Lynne Ramsay
film profile] by Lynne Ramsay), the adopted son of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), leader of the extremist group known as the Second Salemers, who are demanding a new witch hunt. Scamander is apparently in New York to purchase a rare beast from an American breeder to add to his menagerie of well-loved and extinct fantastic beasts. When one of these escapes from his suitcase and starts wreaking havoc, the young wizard must face the harsh judgment of the MACUSA, which is determined to keep the existence of wizards an absolute secret from No-Mags (an American term for muggles). In his frantic search for the escaped beasts, Scamander makes friends with none other than pleasant No-Mag Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and together with witch sisters Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol), he must face the terrible “Obscurus”, which dangerous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (played by an overweight Johnny Depp), is very interested in.
The scenes with the animals are captivating and entertaining – watching the film in 3D means they are often flung right in your face – and the darker scenes have great power to them, whilst the presence of the muggle among the good guys warms our hearts, with the latter even striking up a romance with the sweet and sexy Queenie. More sophisticated audiences will be able to discuss the metaphorical aspects of the film and the political references to a magical aristocracy that isn’t proven to exist. Others will simply enjoy the message the film carries about nature. As Scamander says, on arriving in an America in the throes of industrial development, “these fantastic beasts are surrounded by millions of ferocious creatures: human beings”.
(Translated from Italian)